French Expression of the Day: Un pavé dans la mare

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French Expression of the Day: Un pavé dans la mare
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

This French expression might make headlines after a scandal.


Why do I need to know un pavé dans la mare?

Because if you have some explosive gossip to share, then you could entice your friends by describing it with this expression.

What does it mean?

Un pavé dans la mare roughly pronounced uhn pah-vay dahn lah mahr directly translates to ‘a stone in the pond’. 

Pavé refers to a specific type of stone - a paving stone or concrete slab usually used for making roads. In other words, something that would make a big splash if you threw it into a pond. 

While you might find yourself in a situation to use this expression in its literal sense - perhaps there is a slab of concrete randomly placed in a pond, this expression is usually reserved for referencing an explosive event or comment made by someone. This type of event or remark would shake up or disrupt the current situation.


As such, you would see it written as ‘jeter (or lancer) un pavé dans la mare’. The idea is that throwing a large stone or slab of concrete into a pond would make a huge splash and leave ripples behind in the water. 

In English one might say someone ‘dropped a bomb’, or 'lit the blue touchpaper' and in certain situations (depending on the context) it might be translated as a ‘wake-up call’.

Generally, anything that is shocking or disrupts the normal order of things could be described this way.

You might see the French press use this expression after a celebrity has released a scathing criticism, like when French actress Muriel Robin said that her cinema career had been cut short due to homophobia - reports said she had ‘shaken up’ the cinema world. 

Use it like this

Le maire a lancé un pavé dans la mare en déclarant à la presse qu'il savait depuis le début que la mort n'était pas un accident. – The mayor dropped a bomb when he told the press that he had known since the beginning that the death was not an accident.

Le scandale a fait l'effet de jeter un pavé dans la mare, et tout a commencé à changer par la suite. – The scandal was a real wake-up call, and afterwards everything changed.


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